The History of Blackjack
The modern form of Blackjack we have today is one that evolved from a combination of 17th-century games played in Europe at the time. These games all had one goal in common, which was to achieve a sum of 21.
One of these games was first referenced in 1570 by the Spanish author Miguel Dr. Cervantes. In Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, two characters are renowned to be adept at cheating at a game called “Ventiuna” which is 21 in Spanish. Similarities to blackjack are apparent, as the aim of Ventiuna was to get to 21 with aces given the dual value of 1 or 11 without going over
This game had different versions that were region specific. For example, the Spanish deck did not contain 8s, 9s or 10s. While in the French version called Vingt et In (21 in French), players could bet after each round. Well, the dealer could double every round.
Things differed slightly when it came to the Italian version. The game was called Seven and a Half. Like its name, the goal was to create a hand of 7 and a half points. To aid this objective, the game was played with 7s, 8s, and 9s which were established to be one point and also face cards which held value at half a point. The king of diamonds in this game was established to be a wildcard. The simple aim was for a player to achieve 7 and a half points without going over aka “bust”.
Blackjack right after the French Revolution made its way to the United States. It wasn’t a game that initially grabbed the attention in the gambling houses. It took owners offering a large assortment of bonuses to garner players interest. A popular bonus was a payout of 10 to 1 given to players with hands that consisted of an ace of spades and a blackjack. The name of the game was gotten from this card.
With the popularity of the game rising this payout was revoked and replaced with a payout of 3 to 2 that was given to any playing holding a hand with an ace and ten value card. Although the bonus had changed, the name blackjack was one that stuck, hence it’s name to date. There was a point when it was illegal to gamble on blackjack, in the hopes that it quenched the fervor for the game but this only caused blackjack to become a game played in hiding. This was the very case until Las Vegas became a place where one could legally gamble in 1931.
Blackjack as a game required skills and not a lot of players could fathom what the best moves were. This changed in 1953 when Roger Baldwin published a book on blackjack that summed up the strategy that could reduce the gambling house’s edge to favor a player. Edward Thorp in the early 1960s used this as a stepping stone to elevate Blackjack strategy. He started counting cards that had been used and set aside during a game. And over time he was able to calibrate this strategy effectively enough to receive over 100% return on average. Perfecting his method, he decided to publish it in his book which became an instant bestseller, titled Beat the Dealer
During the period which this book was published, many casinos were initially anxious about the losses this new method would garner them. But it was soon known that only a few number of players were actually able to efficiently count cards, meaning this kept their profits intact.